This post originally ran as the second post in a two part series last October. We are re-running it because so many of our traumatized children have sleep issues (including my youngest daughter, who routinely stays up past her mom’s bedtime!). Jennie’s post has wonderful and practical information to help parents, especially in these challenging first weeks following the time change. You can find Part I of Jennie’s post here.
by: Jennie Murdock
In my last post, I wrote about some of the things every parent with a child with attachment issues and a history of early trauma should consider if their child has difficulty going to sleep, staying asleep or nightmares. Some of those challenges are long-term problems that can’t be solved overnight. As we work with our children to help them heal, we still have to put them to bed every night. Here are some of my favorite bedtime remedies:
1. Rub children with essential oils during the day and especially at night before bed. If they won’t allow a full massage, just start with massaging their hands or feet and rubbing some oils in. There are many wonderful oils and websites that support learning which oils will help. Some oils that are specific for sleep are: lavender, roman chamomile, marjoram, geranium, Serenity, or Citrus Bliss (a combination of many of the citrus oils). Citrus Bliss and Lavender are an especially powerful combination.
2. Give them some form of good exercise that will tire their muscles.
3. Play inviting relaxing music of their choice with subliminal affirmations.
4. Explore energy psychology techniques like EFT and EMDR. Good emotions occur when nervous energy can roam freely in the body, while bad emotions occur when nervous energy gets stuck. You can picture it as a standing wave of energy formed in one of the nerve channels in the body. This is why we feel different emotions in different parts of our body. Sometimes we feel nervous in our stomachs, stress in our shoulders, fear in our hands, etc. Energy is trapped in nerve channels that run through those parts of the body, and EFT and EMDR help release it.
EFT teaches us to tap on a feeling or on an actual belief. Or we can process an old traumatic memory through EMDR eye movement. Both approaches work in the same way. When we tap, we say the belief out loud to bring up the corresponding emotion in the nervous system. Then we tap the various points to reset the system. Each point is the end of a nerve channel in the body, so tapping sends a shockwave down that channel. Because we cannot easily tell which nerve channel is holding a particular emotion, we just tap them all. When the emotion is gone, your mind is no longer attached to the belief. Suddenly your mind is free to re-process the belief, and realize it isn’t true or that there are easy ways around it.
5. Give your children some good high quality protein before bed with a little carbohydrate as well. Think of the warm milk our grandparents used to have before bed. Except, now add a scoop of pure, raw cacao so they get a “milkshake”. The benefits of pure chocolate (cacao powder) are increasingly touted as having calming effects on the nervous system. Dark chocolate contains significant amounts of both serotonin and tryptophan, which explains this calming effect on many people. The magnesium in dark chocolate also will relax tight muscles (think TMJ – jaw tightness). If child has milk allergies/sensitivities, then use coconut, almond, or rice milk instead.
6. Rule out other allergens and nutritional deficiencies and consult with a good nutritionist to figure out the best diet for your child. Consider Vitamin D, Vitamin E, St. John’s Wort, calcium and magnesium among other nutrients.
7. Melatonin can be helpful when used for a short time, but because it really is best used to reset the body clock, limit its use to a few days at a time. When I use it, I switch to Kava Kava, or hops, and then Lavender Oil.
8. After all is said and done, your children might need some psychotropic medication to help them sleep, but use that as a last resort. And remember, underneath all their bravado, anger and aggression, they are sad and depressed and need help resolving that first rather than with a pill. But sometimes the pill is a lifesaver, a crutch of sorts to keep them supported.
Above all, stay loving because “connection comes before correction”. Of course they don’t start out trusting you and will put up all kinds of walls to keep your love out to protect themselves from what seems to them inevitable rejection and pain. But remind yourself that they need you to help them with emotional self regulation. You ARE their emotional regulator until they are strong enough to do it for themselves.
At the same time, we as parents must be firm and consistent with boundaries at bedtime. Be like Jo from “The Nanny”. Even if it takes 50 times, just keep with the routine and put them back into bed with loving consistency.
Finally, don’t give up because these problems can improve….even if it takes way longer than you want it to. Think about that little, depressed, sad infant they once were and love through that lens.